Despite my affinity for all manner of rich foods—primarily fried potatoes and melted cheese—I feel equally strongly that there has to be something to break up the heaviness (a vegetable, some shocking spiciness) so that you don't end a meal with a brick in your stomach and a vaguely queasy feeling.
I like fresh tomatoes on my pizza and spinach in my dips and happy, crunchy cabbage in my fried rice. I'm not going to eat an Alfredo sauce unless it has 17 tablespoons of dried crushed red pepper in it.
In this case, though, I made an exception.
I don't know if it was the slightest break in the heat or the fact that it was Monday (or, perhaps, the fact that I need no encouragement whatsoever to make comfort food), but this one is unapologetically homey and rich. And while it is spicy, there's not a vegetable in sight.
My wonderful food editor dropped by yesterday, as she sometimes does like a fabulous food fairy, to give me a bottle of olive oil from her office stash, so things started there. Of course in typical illogical fashion, this is Greek olive oil that inspired me to make something Italian, so let's just call this thought process Mediterranean, to cover our bases.
Because moderation is not my forte, naturally there's olive oil everywhere here—I learned the nice lesson that the best way to make garlic bread is to use a combination of olive oil and the butter, mixed with a little salt and (duh) garlic. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I used garlic powder for the bread because I'd run out of patience for mincing fresh garlic after the roughly 1,200 or so cloves I used for the pasta and meatballs. It certainly suffered a bit from the granulated stuff, but that's weeknight cooking for you—one cannot do it all.
Where's my fainting couch?
I came at this pasta with the notion of creating a kind of deconstructed lasagna. I happen to think trying to get sauce applied evenly to lasagna noodles is one of the most frustrating activities there is—thick sauces won't spread without moving the noodles all over the place, and lasagna noodles aren't really engineered for your average 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Maybe this is why TwinFin is an architect and I am not—construction is not my talent.
To wit, this is a thick sauce with a béchamel base; you're going to want to tip in more tomato sauce if you like things a bit ... saucier. You can also lighten the whole bit by using a lower fat milk—whole milk just happened to be what I had in the refrigerator. (If you like things glossy and thick with cheese, though, you've come to the right place.) I picked linguine because there was a nifty new Italian pasta at the Winn-Dixie, but any hearty shape will work. Make sure it still has some bite to it when you pull it out of the boiling water, because you need that texture for oomph.
I really wanted tiny meatballs here, but you can roll them to whatever size you like (making sure to let them simmer longer if they're larger so that they're cooked through). I used panko because that's what I had on hand, but you can use any breadcrumbs you have lying about. The turkey is super tender, which can make it hard to form into balls, but if you're gentle with them in the pan they'll brown up and sturdify (sure, that's a word) and be easier to work with. Just don't haul them around in the sauce with a jackhammer and you should be OK. The sauce covers all manner of ills, so if things fall apart a little, no one shall be the wiser.
As always, my dears, please adjust the dried crushed red pepper according to your taste. Because the sauce is creamy it needs a solid punch of heat, but CALL 911 BEFORE MY FACE MELTS OFF is not everyone's cup of tea.
I really, really wished I had some of this for breakfast this morning.
Linguine with Turkey Meatballs and Pink Lasagna Sauce
3 cups whole milk, divided
¼ cup panko
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped and divided
6 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 pound ground turkey
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
16 ounces dried linguine
Garnishes: chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Pour ¼ cup milk over panko in a medium bowl; set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chopped onion, and cook 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Stir in 2 minced garlic cloves; cook 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat, and let onion mixture cool slightly.
3. Add turkey, egg, onion mixture, salt, and pepper to reserved panko mixture in bowl; mix together with your hands just until combine. Form into meatballs.
4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat; add meatballs, in 2 batches, cooking just until browned. Remove meatballs from skillet with a slotted spoon; set aside.
5. Reduce heat to medium, and add remaining onion; cook 5 minutes or until translucent. Stir in remaining garlic cloves, dried crushed red pepper, and oregano; cook 30 seconds. Add butter to pan, cooking just until melted; whisk in flour. Cook 1 minute, whisking constantly. Slowly add remaining milk to pan, whisking constantly until mixture is smooth; add cheeses, stirring until melted. Stir in tomato sauce.
6. Add reserved meatballs to sauce in pan; reduce heat, and simmer.
7. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Serve pasta topped with sauce and meatballs. Garnish, if desired. Makes 6 servings.